While Shinty has been likened to lacrosse, hockey and ice-hockey it is not really anything like it. Apart from all these sports involving sticks and balls, it is quite different and being compared to the likes of these newer games does not really do our Shinty justice. The closest sport to Shinty is probably the Irish game Hurling. Although the rules are quite different, both sports are really old and played at a significantly faster pace than their modern counterparts. I must also emphasise that although similarities exist, any Highlander worth his salt will tell you that Hurling remains only slightly as exciting as Shinty. This unique and fast paced game is one of the oldest sports in the world along with polo and jousting. Shinty originated in the Scottish Highlands; where it is still predominately played. The main events are the Camachd Association Challenge Cup and the Scottish Hydro Premier Division.
The rules of the game are looked after by the Camanachd Association in my home town Inverness and their objectives are to promote and encourage the development of the sport and to make sure that the rules of Shinty are upheld. They also govern the vast majority of Shinty activities and national competitions. Not much has changed in terms of the rules over the years, Shinty enthusiasts like to believe that it is impossible to perfect the perfect game. The playing field has, however, evolved to some extent and in some areas. While Shinty is traditionally played on a field of grass, artificial turf has started becoming popular in recent years and it is now widely accepted that Shinty may be played on such surfaces without compromising tradition.
In regards to alternative surfaces, it is also rumoured that ice-hockey evolved from Shinty after Highlanders settled in Canada and took to playing Shinty on ice for lack of a grass field through the wintry months. Even until today informal ice-hockey games in Canada are referred to as Shinny games. Unlike ice-hockey, Shinty is played with a ball and not a puck. Slightly smaller than a tennis ball; the Shinty ball is made of a solid core of cork and covered in leather. This ball is manoeuvred across the playing field with a stick known as a caman; similar to a hockey stick and also made out of wood. The idea is that the opposite team members get the ball to the enemy’s goal on the other side of the field.
Sound simple? Sure, until you actually watch a game. The vastly different set of rules makes for a very fast and very exciting game where it is not uncommon to experience rivers of blood, sweat and tears. Shinty is not for the faint-hearted and many a Highlander firmly believe that the sport is not internationally renowned for the sheer excitement it provides; not every nation is equipped to handle that amount of adrenaline induced by some men on a field with a bunch of sticks and a wee ball.